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My Turn: Let’s do the math on what is ‘affordable’

Are high-end condos really what Main Street needs? Jim Baer claims a “strong presence” of “low-income and affordable rental units” in downtown Concord and deems these “affordable” (Monitor Opinion page, July 9). Sure, there’s subsidized housing within walking distance of downtown. It’s full, with years-long waiting lists for vacancies. As to affordable, how many of the employees who assist us at downtown businesses can handle the price tags on those 81 CATCH units? Baer blithely confuses “market rate” rentals with “affordable” ones. Let’s do a little math.

Concord’s a desirable place to live, with services, shopping and entertainment readily available in a small area. In the very edition of the Monitor containing Baer’s plea on behalf of the well-heeled, several duplexes within walking distance of downtown were advertised. The cheapest, a one-bedroom, rents for $1,000 a month. A $9-an-hour worker earns short of $19,000 a year. Of course, our worker’s take-home is substantially less, coming to perhaps $16,000 annually. Once this worker pays the rent, she or he has about $333 a month to cover food, heat, lights, phone, medical and transportation. Worse, the person is over-income to qualify for public assistance.

This duplex is well within “market rates” for similar Concord properties.

Even a single room in Concord can run to more than $6,000 a year. Meanwhile, our state is busy kicking a burgeoning population of homeless people off state property, apparently hoping they’ll just vanish. They won’t. Instead, they’ll join hundreds of others competing for living options they can afford, including downtown’s steam grates and downtown merchants’ doorways.

Maybe Concord could attract empty-nesters and retirees with high-end condos sporting rooftop gardens, balconies, in-house fitness centers and morning lattes delivered to your door. But the city will have a better chance of doing this if it first cleans up its act and begins providing housing options that our lowest-income residents can actually afford.

(Jane J. Hunt represents Ward 6 in Concord.)

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